African health labour of the Gold Coast: Evolution of attendant care in Ghanaian hospitals, 1860-1957

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University of New Brunswick


This report examines African health labour in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) from 1860 to 1957 with a focus on the overlooked contribution of orderlies. In the process, it explores the intersection of race, gender and class in the recruitment of Africans into the colonial medical service. Though often referred to as ancillary and described as unskilled, orderlies deserve attention. British medical staff regularly relied on the labour of orderlies to fill in when formally trained staff like dispensers, nurses and midwives were in short supply. This research also suggests these “unskilled” orderlies were the first local African labour brought into the infrastructures of missionary and colonial medicine of the Gold Coast. This makes their essential, but under-appreciated, role important to understanding the advancement of “Western” scientific medicine into West Africa over the 19th and 20th centuries.